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Band Composer Series: Robert Sheldon

March 31, 2011

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Robert Sheldon, Concert Band Editor for Alfred Music Publishing, and was able to gain some insight into the types of things that inspire his writing style.

An internationally recognized clinician, Sheldon has conducted numerous Regional and All-State Honor Bands throughout the United States and abroad, is Conductor of the Prairie Wind Ensemble in residence at Illinois Central College, and teaches Composition at Bradley University.  He holds membership in several organizations that promote music and music education.

When did you start composing and what kind of ensemble did you start writing for?
My first pieces were for my high school jazz band when I was in 10th grade.

Do you have a mentor, or someone you would say has influenced your style of writing the most, and if so who would that be? 
My composition teachers who influenced me the most were Clifton Williams, Al Reed and Richard Bowles.

Are you currently in the middle of any writing projects, and if so, would you mind telling us about them?
My next commission is for a group in Texas.  The working title is Spontaneous Combustion, so as you can imagine the piece is rather aggressive and robust.  I only work on one commission at a time, but I try to continually keep ideas flowing for the next commissions coming up as there are many others scheduled over the next four years I need to be thinking about as well.

What is your favorite band piece (by another composer)?
Wow… so many… but Eric Whitacre’s October really speaks to me.  I love the lyricism and opportunities for expression that can change subtly every time you conduct it.

Do you have one of your own works that you would call your favorite?
My favorite piece is always the one I am currently working on!

What advice or tips would you give to an aspiring composer?
Don’t write until you have something to say.  Then, be organized.  Plan your writing project as you would a travel experience.  When I plan a trip, I want to know where I am going, how long I will be gone, who is going with me, what I want to do, see or accomplish on the trip, and when I will return.  Same thing when I write – I want to know what I want to say, (where I am going), the duration of the piece (how long I will be gone), instrumentation (who is going with me), the message behind the piece (what I want to see or accomplish), and how the piece will end (am I coming home or going somewhere to stay?).

I would like to think that the music is a travel adventure of a sort, and that anyone who hears the music will in some way be transported or changed by it.

What is your favorite aspect about composing?
I am continually energized by the beauty of sound, and trying to figure out ways to create new and different sounds using colors and textures while still being true to my “melodic” predisposition.

Do you have the opportunity to rehearse and/or conduct your works with various groups, and if so do you enjoy the experience and why?
I am continually out conducting various groups, and they usually request I include one or more of my pieces in their performances.  I very much enjoy sharing my thoughts and feelings about the music, and using my years of high school and university band conducting experiences to help them achieve higher levels of performances.

 “Rapid Fire” Questions:

What is on your iPod?
David Sedaris reading his books, tone poems of Richard Strauss, and the entire Alfred Music Publishing concert band catalogue!

If not composing or performing, what profession could you envision yourself doing?
Teaching (since I have done it for so long).

What is your favorite composition? (of any composer, in any medium)
The music to the ballet Daphnis and Chloë  by Ravel.

Is there anyone, past or present, that, if possible you would like to have the opportunity to meet?
Rachel Maddow

If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that be?
Percy Grainger

Favorite pastime?
Exploring great cities (Paris, London, Moscow, San Francisco, Sydney, Vancouver, Tokyo, Chicago, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Rome, Stockholm, New York, Barcelona, Toronto, Berlin, Copenhagen, etc., etc.) and enjoying the art, culture, music, food and entertainment they have to offer.

Sheldon received a Bachelor of Music degree in music education from the University of Miami and a Master of Fine Arts degree  in instrumental conducting from the University of Florida.  He has also taught instrumental music in the Florida and Illinois public schools, and has served on the faculty at Florida State University where he taught conducting and instrumental music education classes, and directed the university bands.

Click here for a selection of Robert Sheldon’s works.

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